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Backpacking along the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Chris Upchurch

After attending a CQB Entry/Breaching class with Eric Pfleger in Montana, I went on a six-day backpack with my parents along the Continental Divide Trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We’d done a similar CDT hike after another of Eric’s classes back in 2016 after another class with Eric down in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.

This time our trip would be to the Chinese Wall, a twelve-mile long cliff face along the Continental Divide.

Gear

This would be my first hike with my new Mystery Ranch Blackjack 80 pack. I bought this after Eric’s Longrifle/Rural Scout Sniper class back in May to give me a more conventional large Multicam pack than my Eberlestock Skycrane. I thought a six-day backpack would be a pretty good opportunity to wring it out. I’d been putting some time in with it all summer (loading it up and walking up and down the stairs at my apartment complex, since there are no mountains in Kansas).

My usual tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest mattress, and some clothes filled about 3/4 of it, leaving the last quarter for food. I also carried a can of bear spray and a 10mm Glock for any encounters with four-legged predators. My parents provided the food and a trekking pole (for which I would be very grateful later in the hike).

Day 0

My parents picked me up from Eric’s place, and we headed over to the east side of the Bob Marshall Wilderness via US 2 (just south of Glacier National Park). We stayed the night at Benchmark Campground near the trailhead.

Day 1

We got all packed up and headed out at 9:30. There was a nice suspension bridge over the South Fork of the Sun River. The trail was broad and not too steep, but there were lots of places where it had been churned up into big mud pits by horses’ hooves. We had to skirt around the edges of these to stay on solid ground.

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Along the way, we met a volunteer who staffed one of the forest service patrol cabins out for a day hike. During our conversation, she pitched us very strongly on a side hike up to the top of Prairie Reef. It provides excellent views of the Wall but requires a nine-mile round trip and a 3500-foot climb.

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After about four miles we came to another suspension bridge, this one over the West Fork of the South Fork of the Sun River (not confusing at all, is it?). From here we followed the West Fork, gradually climbing upward.

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It got pretty warm in the afternoon camping, and we were walking through some burned areas without much shade. We had a nice conversation with the volunteer at the Indian Point patrol cabin. He recommended a good campsite near Indian Creek, about a mile down the trail.

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On the way to the campsite, we met a pair of Continental Divide Trail through hikers, heading north to Canada. We talked with them a bit as they took a break. They’re on the leading edge of this year’s northbound CDT hikers (they know of three through hikers ahead of them).

Day 2

The grade on the first day had been relatively gentle, but today found us climbing steadily throughout the day. We had about 2000 feet of elevation to gain before the day was out. During the morning we followed the West Fork of the South Fork of the Sun River and the climb was relatively gradual.

Early in the day, we were moving through mostly newer forest, but as we climbed, we moved into old-growth that had not burned recently. The trail was heavily shaded, nice and cool. There were a fair number of huckleberry bushes along the side of the trail. A horse train with ten guests and two guides passed by us.

In the early afternoon, we turned west, following Burnt Creek up towards the Chinese Wall. The trail steepened quite a bit, and we lost the protective forest canopy, but some clouds rolling in from the west kept it from getting too hot. As we climbed the Burnt Creek drainage, we got our first view of the Wall around Cliff Mountain.

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The trail ascended the north side of the canyon, climbing above Burnt Creek. We heard an elk bugle down towards the creek (that or someone with an elk call). As we got closer to the Wall, we came to an area where the trail had been realigned to reduce the grade, which was quite welcome. We had about 1000 feet of elevation gain in just two miles.

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Finally, we topped out at the saddle between Burnt Creek and Moose Creek. Here we caught up with the horse train from earlier. They pointed us up a short side trail that climbed to the base of the Wall and provided great views to the north and south.

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We came down from the lookout just as the horse train was leaving, followed quickly by their baggage train of 15 mules and three wranglers (that’s one mule worth of baggage per person!). At this point, it was about 4 o’clock. The saddle marked the beginning of a no-camping zone between Cliff Mountain and Salt Mountain, so going further would commit us to continuing on for several more miles.

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We pushed onward and traversed the upper reaches of Moose Creek, stopping to snap pictures of the Wall as breaks in the clouds delivered good light. Thankfully, the trail kept us near the Wall, and we didn’t drop much elevation; so we didn’t have to gain much to get over the saddle at the base of Salt Mountain that would take us from the Moose Creek drainage to Rock Creek.

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We dropped down to Rock Creek and found a nice campsite where the trail crossed the creek. By this time it was about 7 o’clock, making for a very long day. We got the tents up and made a quick dinner so we could turn in as soon as we could. Not long after, we heard the pitter-patter of raindrops on our tents. The rain continued off and on throughout the night, punctuated by thunder echoing off the Chinese Wall.

Day 3

The next day dawned damp and solidly overcast. There was a brief moment of morning light on the Chinese Wall as the rising sun slipped some light underneath the clouds, but it disappeared before I could even get a picture.

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Again, the trail closely hugged the Wall as we walked north through the headwaters of the Rock Creek drainage. The trail had many nice views of the Wall, though in this case they were tempered by the flat light of the overcast sky. It drizzled on and off as we walked, pausing just long enough to tempt us to take off our rain gear before starting up again.

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We left the Wall at the north end, swinging around to the east side of Larch Hill. Rounding the hill, we found a spot where we could take a few steps to the top of the ridge for some great views to the north, showing the terrain between here and Maris Pass.

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The trail descended steeply down the ridge to Spotted Bear Pass. From here, we would continue to follow the Continental Divide Trail to the east. Most CDT through hikers take an alternate route to the north that cuts off about 17 miles of travel. As it happens, we met another through hiker at the pass. As one might expect, she was planning to take the alternate.

We headed down the trail towards Rock Creek. The forest here was very thick old growth. The damp weather made it feel almost like the Pacific Northwest. Our progress was impeded by the number of huckleberry bushes along the trail; eventually, we had to stop pausing to gobble down every huckleberry we saw.

As we stopped for a break, I noticed a glass insulator attached to some wire, similar to what you might see on an old telephone/telegraph or power line. We wondered what it was doing in such a remote spot.

We came to a patrol cabin (this one unmanned), and half a mile beyond we found a level spot off the trail to set up camp. While today wasn’t quite as long a day as yesterday, we were still ready to crash right after a quick dinner. Again, we got a fair bit of rain overnight.

Day 4

It was cool and overcast again this morning. The clouds were low enough that the upper reaches of the canyon were shrouded in mist. If we were up at the Wall today, we’d likely be walking in the fog.

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Since there was no water source near our campsite, we walked to the next stream before cooking breakfast. This was more old-growth forest, with a temperate rainforest vibe. We saw a hare or a big rabbit crossing the trail as we walked.

After following Rock Creek in a gradual descent, we climbed out of the Rock Creek drainage over a saddle past Miner’s Creek and Hoxsey Creek, eventually following the latter down to Red Shale Creek.

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Here we faced a bit of a challenge. All of the previous watercourses we’d crossed had either had bridges (up to and including the very substantial suspension bridges over the forks of the Sun River) or were small enough that we could rock hop across them. In many of those cases, we were near these watercourse’s headwaters up near the Wall. Now we were much further from the Wall, and Red Shale Creek had the benefit of a much larger watershed (and quite a bit of rain in the past few days). It was much too deep to rock hop across. I ended up stripping off my boots and socks and fording the creek barefoot.

We continued to Gates Park, site of a rough field airstrip, where we finally left the Continental Divide Trail. Around this time the overcast broke up, clearing to partly cloudy skies. From here, our route grew much less traveled and more faint. After a bit of trouble, we were able to find the path south. We scared up a pair of cranes near Gates Lake, which cackled at us as they flew off majestically.

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After a few miles, we dropped down to the North Fork of the Sun River. There we found ourselves back at Rock Creek, a few miles downstream from where we’d left it. Now it was a far more substantial watercourse than the one we’d been able to hop across in a single bound up near the Chinese Wall. Once again, I took off my boots and socks and forded barefoot. We continued south a bit and camped atop a hill. The area was thick with old elk droppings (I also saw a bit of old bear scat there as well, though I didn’t mention this to my parents). It was also thick with mosquitos, so we ate a hasty dinner and dove into our tents early.

Day 5

After the coldest night so far this trip, the day began with a thick overcast. We bundled up and headed south again. After a mile or so we were presented with a dilemma: a shorter route that would require fording the North Fork of the Sun River twice, or a route 1.2 miles longer that would keep us on this side of the river. We chose the longer route. We did not escape fording entirely, however, as we had to cross Moose Creek. Much like Rock Creek, this had grown from a small stream up near the Wall to a much more substantial waterway. Again, I stripped off socks and boots walk across.

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Today the morning overcast broke up a bit earlier, around 10 am. The land along the North Fork of the Sun River was much more open than what we’d been hiking through the past few days. This provided some long views and combined with the sunnier weather, made for some nice pictures.

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There were lots of deer tracks along the trail in this stretch, along with a few elk prints.

We had two more fords today: one at Glen Creek (where a partially submerged log helped us get across) and another at Bear Creek. The latter was a bit of an adventure since you had to cross the creek diagonally and couldn’t see the exit from where you entered.

Just beyond Bear Creek, we found a great campsite. It had some nicely elevated logs for sitting on, and a pole lashed between two trees for hanging bear bags. Combined with very agreeable temperatures this was probably the nicest camp we’d had on this trip.

This camp was clearly used often and to further drive that home, my Dad came across a paper bag with what appeared to be somebody’s lunch: a sandwich and some candy. Something had already bitten its way through the bag and nibbled on the sandwich.

Just as we got to bed, a coyote nearby started yelping and howling.

Day 6

Since we knew it would be a two-hour drive from the trailhead to a Great Falls after we finished hiking, we decided to get up early today. We were up by 5:30. It was chilly this morning, but for the first time since the second day of our hike we woke up to blue skies. We set out in the crisp morning air at around 7:00, crossing Goat Creek on a log (probably not intended as a bridge, but it served well enough).

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For most of the morning, we were hiking through a burned area, giving the sunny morning a chance to warm us up a bit. Eventually, we reached Pretty Prairie, site of a patrol cabin and a disused airstrip. South of Pretty Prairie there was another opportunity to save some distance by fording the river twice. Again, we declined and stayed on the west side of the Sun River.

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We came across a big pile of fairly fresh bear scat in the middle of the trail. This was the first unambiguous sign of recent bear activity we’d seen on this hike. Soon after I noticed depressions in the ground where sizable rocks had recently been turned over. Combined with the scat, I figured this was a bear looking for grubs and insects.

We hadn’t seen any huckleberries since we dropped down to a lower elevation on the fourth day. Today, however, we did run across some raspberry bushes soon after spotting the bear scat. We partook of a bunch of berries while keeping an eye out for any hungry bears.

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While we didn’t see any bears, this was a bumper day for wildlife. We saw a couple of grouse, and as we neared the West Fork of the South Fork of the Sun River, a pair of whitetail does bounded across the trail.

We reached the suspension bridge over the West Fork around lunchtime and encountered a horse train and trio of hikers heading in. These were the first people we’d met since the through hiker back at Spotted Bear Pass on the second day. Since it never rains but it pours, they were quickly followed by another quartet of hikers. We were definitely back on the main trail at this point.

From here on out, we were in familiar territory, hiking out from the West Fork to the trailhead on the trail we’d hiked in on the morning of our first day. We saw some more hikers (including the first day hikers we encountered on this entire trip) and a couple more grouse.

We got to the trailhead around 2:30 and got loaded up for the drive into Great Falls. We got a room at a local motel and took advantage of the showers before grabbing some dinner at a restaurant (my steak was not all that good, unfortunately). We turned in early and slept late, enjoying a nice long night’s sleep.

Day 7

I packed up my gear and left a few things with my parents to ship back for me. They dropped me at the airport after lunch, and I had a nice long wait until my flight (I took the opportunity to get started with this writeup). The flights and the layover in Denver went smoothly, and I got home around 11:30 and went straight to bed.

Conclusion

This was a good hike. It has been several years since I’d had the chance to do any backpacking and it was nice to get to spend some time with my parents. The weather on days 3 and 4 was a bit of a bummer, but overall it was a great experience.

It took a bit of experimentation to get the adjustments on Blackjack 80 dialed in, but it carried very well. I’m quite happy with it.

Someday, I’d like to go back to the Chinese Wall and hopefully be able to see it in better lighting conditions. I’d also like to get a chance to climb Prairie Reef to the lookout and see the magnificent views that we heard about (though I think that’s its own in-and-out trip rather than something to do on top of hiking to the Wall. I’m very happy I made the trip.

CQB Entry/Breaching with Eric Pfleger

Chris Upchurch

I recently took CQB Entry/Breaching with Eric Pfleger. I’ve been encouraging Eric to teach a breaching class ever since we did a bit of shotgun breaching work in the Total Gunfighter class a few years ago. When Eric announced this class, I was all over it.

Gear

This class isn’t as gear-intensive as some of the sniper classes I’ve taken from Eric. However, I’d be doing a six-day backpack in the Bob Marshall Wilderness after the class, which meant I needed all of my backpacking gear in addition to the gun stuff. Fortunately, I had stashed some of the gear I would need for the backpack with Eric after the sniper class earlier this summer. This allowed me to get everything into two big suitcases and a carry-on.

I brought my 10.5” SBR AR with a Gemtech GMT-556LE suppressor. This gun is set up with a carbon fiber handguard extending over the can so that you can get the benefit of an extended handguard with a short overall length. I’m running an Aimpoint Micro T-1 on a riser. This is the first rifle class in a couple of years that I’ve shot with a red dot rather than a low power variable optic.

As my secondary, I brought my Roland Special Glock 19X with a Mayhem Syndicate comp and Trijicon RMR optic. For the class, I’m running a Surefire X300 rather than the Crimson Trace Lightguard I’ve had on there in the past because that’s what’s compatible with the holster I’m using. This was also my carry gun on the trip; this is the first time I’ve carried this pistol as my primary self-defense implement. I also brought along a 10mm Glock to carry on the backpacking trip after the class.

If I’d been driving to this class, I probably would have brought a plate carrier, but since I flew, I kept it simple and just went with a belt rig. In this case an AWS Light Assaulter belt with a couple of Tyr Tactical mag pouches, a Safariland ALS holster, a dump pouch, knife, multitool, and some medical gear.

I bought a set of Mechanix breaching gloves that offer a bit more protection than the Overlord gloves I usually wear. I ran Multicam for the class (in part because I love the Crye combat pants).

Friday

My flight to Montana on Friday went smoothly (though I think I shocked the lady at the check-in desk when she asked me to open up my rifle case). Eric picked me up at the airport in Missoula. After hitting some stores and grabbing dinner, we headed out.

Saturday

Eric and I left for the range about 7 am. The venue for this class is a private range. Eric had mocked up a wall with a door in it out of some 2x4s and an old door. This morning he immediately got busy sketching out a floor plan in orange paint on the ground for us to do some tape drills on later that day.

Everyone else in the class rolled in before the start time, and we began with the usual waivers and a medical brief. Eric went through the safety lecture, though for this class in addition to the standard gun stuff (the four rules) he also spent some time on the hazards created by breaching, like broken glass and crushed fingers. Eye protection and gloves are essential in this class.

Eric talked a bit about what we’d be covering today and tomorrow. The class would mostly concentrate on CQB for the solo operator and 2-man team, though we might touch on larger teams a bit. He emphasized that this would be a class that required using our brains much more than our trigger fingers.

That said, we started out exercising those trigger fingers. Eric had us do some pistol work, emphasizing the accuracy standards required in a CQB environment. We started with some one-hole drills, then move on to controlled triples, then three-round bursts, followed by a cranio-ocular shot.

As mentioned earlier, gloves are essential in breaching and the CQB environment in general. However, most of us don’t spend a whole lot of time shooting in gloves (and if we do they’re usually thin, dexterous gloves rather than well-armored breaching gloves). Eric talked a bit about the kind of gloves he likes. As it happened, every single student in the class brought the same Mechanix Impact gloves. We put these on and went through the same shooting drills as we’d done earlier. The gloves definitely added to the degree of difficulty. Eric gave us the option to continue shooting gloved up or to go back to shooting barehanded until we got to the breaching stuff. I decided to take on the challenge and shoot the class gloved.

Next up, Eric had us practice turning and addressing targets to our 3 o’clock, 9 o’clock, and 6 o’clock directions. Thus far we’d been shooting at roughly “halfway across the room” type distances. We stepped it back to across the room distance and practiced maintaining the necessary level of accuracy at the longer distance.

We had some rain on and off, ranging from light sprinkles that weren't even worth breaking out the goretex for to a slow drizzle.

With the review of shooting fundamentals out of the way, we moved on to room entries. Eric started by talking about doing this solo versus a two-man team. The solo operator faces the challenge of trying to cover the entire room. However, he also has the freedom to maneuver any way he wants. In a two-man (or larger) team, you have help covering other sectors. However, your movement is restricted by the need to keep lines of fire clear. Essentially, team CQB has a lot more rules. Everyone needs to be on the same page and follow these rules to avoid friendly fire or situations where a teammate can’t shoot a bad guy because a team member is in his line of fire.

As a solo operator, you probably want to seek out a wall or corner as your position of domination. This restricts the area you need to cover to 180 or 90 degrees, rather than 360.

In a two-man team, your points of domination are defined for you: the corners of the room closest to the door. This gives each man a sector of fire that extends from his corner to the back of the room to one meter off of his teammate.

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Eric talked a bit about static entries versus dynamic entries. In a static entry, you’re doing more of a search; nothing is pushing you to move faster like there would be in a hostage rescue or active shooter situation. In a static entry, you conduct a slow, deliberate angular search from outside the doorway (slicing the pie). See as much of what you can see from the outside before going through the door.

Once you’re ready to enter the room, however, you always do it dynamically. No inching your way in the door, move quickly through the fatal funnel.

While we were still doing these as one-man entries, Eric did introduce an element of team operations into it from the very start: announcing that you were coming out of a room rather than just stepping through the door weapon-first and potentially triggering a friendly fire incident. He had us do this by sticking our hand through the door, giving a thumbs up and announcing “one coming out.”

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We ran some one-man room entries dry. Eric had a freestanding doorframe (without any door in it) and used some cones to mark out the corners of the room. We practiced going through the door and heading to each of the corners nearest the door, either cutting through the doorway diagonally and going to the corner on the far side (an “X” entry) or pulling a U-turn and going to the corner back on the same side we started on (a buttonhook).

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X-entry

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Buttonhook

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Once everybody had a grasp of the fundamentals, we went live fire. Eric set up a nice progression, gradually increasing the complexity of the problem starting with one target in one of the rear corners, then moving on to two targets in the back of the room, then one target in one of the front corners and one target in the rear of the room.

Thus far we’d been dealing with an open door (well, actually, no door in the doorframe at all). At this point, Eric introduced the problem of a closed door. The first order of business with a door is to figure out whether it’s inward opening or outward opening (looking for hinges is a good way to do this). All things being equal, it’s better to work a closed door from the knob side of the door rather than the hinge side, so you don’t have to reach across the door to open it. That said, it’s not always possible (the knob side might require exposing your back to a potential threat, for instance).

You can quietly wiggle the knob to do a “soft check” to try to tell whether the door is locked. Since breaching was a subject for the second day of the class, today we would always be finding the door unlocked.

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If you’re doing a slow methodical clear (a static entry), you can throw the door open and back off a few steps, then start conducting your angular search. There’s a bit of an art to throwing open a door like this. You want to shove it hard enough that it will swing all the way open, but if you swing it too hard, it will bounce off the wall and close itself. If you’re doing a dynamic entry, on the other hand, you’re going through that door the moment it opens.

We practiced opening doors and did some live one-man entries.

Next up was two-man team entries. As with any team CQB, this is much less free-form than solo CQB. Instead, you’re executing predefined roles and following the “rules” of team CQB. The most important rule is “The #1 man is never wrong.” The first guy through the door is going to have to choose a direction, whether he’s going to go to the corner to his right or the one to his left. Regardless, the second guy’s job is to go in the opposite direction. #1 goes right, #2 goes left, and vice versa.

With a two-man entry, you can either position yourselves on either side of the door or stack up with both of you on the same side, one behind the other.

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We did two-man entries dry until everyone was comfortable with it, then went live. Again, Eric had a nice progression. Starting with each student just shooting their “own” target (the one on their side of the room), then progressing to putting rounds into both targets one after the other.

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Eric talked a bit about three-man entries, where the #3 man moves just inside the doorway, out of the fatal funnel but staying along the wall rather than going to the corner like the #1 and #2 men do.

Next, we moved out of the “shoot house” area Eric had set up to the floor plan that he’d marked out on the range with paint. Eric talked about how to handle corridors and hallways. In something like an active shooter situation where you have a compelling motivation to move quickly, you’re not going to be entering rooms or even conducting a detailed angular search. You’re just moving towards the sound of gunfire and directing your attention (and gun muzzle) towards potential threat areas as you pass. If you’re doing this as a solo operator, it will almost certainly mean leaving yourself exposed to potential danger areas and relying on movement to provide some measure of security. Eric had each of us move down the corridor at “active shooter speed,” addressing the danger areas as we moved.

In a situation where you’re conducting a more deliberate search, you can pie corners and clear rooms as you go. Still, if you’re a solo operator, this will involve exposing yourself to areas of unknown danger. When you can only look one direction at once, there’s not really any alternative in a complex environment.

When moving down a wide hallway in a two-man team, it’s best to have one guy on each side of the hallway providing cross cover. This means each man’s primary sector is actually along the opposite wall since this allows them to get a better view into rooms and side corridors.

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As you come to open doors or side corridors, the guy on the opposite side will conduct the angular search. Where it gets tricky is when you have danger areas on both sides that need to be searched (a four-way “+” intersection or open doors directly opposite each other). In those circumstances, all you can do is search as much as you can without exposing your back to the other danger area. When the time comes to step out, each guy turns and addresses the danger area on their own side of the corridor rather than the opposite side.

One thing that Eric showed I hadn’t seen before was having the guy who did the angular search of a room slip back around behind the guy who’s covering down the hallway and step between him and the wall to become the lead man in the stack. This lets the guy who’s seen most of the room be the first one through the door.

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All of the rooms that we’d done thus far had been center-fed: the door was in the middle of one wall. Eric talked briefly about how to handle corner fed rooms where the door is up against one of the corners.

He also covered T-intersections. They have quite a few similarities to 4-way intersections, but you don’t have to worry about covering down the hall.

Finally, he talked about handling small rooms, like a janitor’s closet or similar that are too small for a full team. For these, you call out “Short room!” To let your teammates know that you’ll be going in solo. Depending on how confined the space is, you may even transition from a carbine to a pistol.

This covered all of the features that Eric had marked out in the floor plan, so we paired up into two-man teams and cleared it using the skills we’d just been taught.

We moved over to the front door of the house where there was half a flight of stairs and Eric talked about how to clear them. With one man they’re a tough problem. This is one of those situations where you need to move quickly and deliberately to get through the danger area. With two men, you can have one cover from the bottom of the stairs or the landing while the other moves up the stairs. Once he gets to the top, the first man can move up.

We did some dry work on the front steps, then moved inside and did a pair of half-flights with a landing as a two-man team.

I asked Eric about dealing with stairs with open treads (so someone could be hiding behind the stairs and see your ankles as you come down) especially when working from the top of the stairs, like down into a basement. Eric noted this would be a great time for a mirror on a stick. While most of us don’t usually carry around mirrors, he noted that the selfie cameras in our smartphones essentially turns them into mirrors (he uses them to subtly look behind him when doing PSD work).

To close out the day, Eric talked about mechanical breaching tools that we’d be using tomorrow. While he showed off some of the high-speed SWAT stuff a lot of it was stuff you can buy at Home Depot.

Probably the most versatile tool he mentioned is a simple sledgehammer in the 6-10lb range. It can be used both as a hammer and an improvised ram. You can cut the handle down to about 18 inches to make something that can easily be carried by an assaulter on a simple loop of webbing or paracord.

Prybars are another widely available tool with lots of breaching applications. A fence post setter makes a good improvised ram (particularly if you add some weight to it). Wrecking hammers and chainsaw wedges are more accessories than primary tools, but they are quite useful. Given the penchant for active shooters to chain and padlock doors shut, perhaps one of the most useful breaching tools is a pair of bolt cutters.

On the professional side of things, the multitool of the breaching world is a Halligan: a bar with a prybar like fork on one end. The other end has a hoe-like blade called an adze and, sticking out to the side 90 degrees from the adze, a sharp spike. There are also “tactical” versions of the hammer and ram which are arguably somewhat better (for ten times the price). Finally, Eric showed off a set of lock picks, which are useful for stealth entries.

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With this, Eric called a formal end to the training day. We adjourned to the house to enjoy some adult beverages and watch some breaching videos. Eric had some great examples of firefighters breaching hardened doors. After the videos, we adjourned to a local brewery for dinner and some beer before heading home.

Sunday

Eric and I rolled out about 7 am. After we got to the range and everyone got their gear squared away we watched a few more of the videos that we hadn’t been able to see the previous evening. Eric took the opportunity to give a short lecture on using flash-bangs. We didn’t have any to play with for this class, but they are very useful tools.

Our first subject for the day was port and cover. This is when a team breaks out a window and has a team member lean through it to provide cover (and if necessary, gunfire) into the room.

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Problem #1 is that a lot of windows are too high to do this from the ground, especially on buildings built with crawl spaces or mobile homes. The easiest solution for this is the breaching ladder. Eric brought out a couple of his to demo. He prefers short (4-6’) sections of standard aluminum ladders rather than the specialized tactical ones. The ladders can also be used as racks to which you can attach other breaching tools, improvised litters, etc. They’re also often about the right height for reaching windows on a bus as well.

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If you don’t have a ladder, Eric demoed a technique where one team member can sit back against the wall and make a saddle with his hands to boost another team member up where he has his knees on the bottom guy’s shoulders. This puts the top guy at about the right height for many windows. Another improvised technique is to jam the fork of a Halligan into the ground and lean it up against the side of the building, then step on the adze end and balance there.

We moved on to knocking doors open. As mentioned, Eric likes sledgehammers for this. He showed how to use them both as an improvised ram and as a hammer. Eric gave us the opportunity to knock open some doors using a hammer.

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Next up were prying tools like the Halligan or a prybar. With these, you’re generally not so much prying the door open directly as you are bending the part of the frame with the locking mechanism away from the door. Chainsaw wedges can be a useful adjunct here, allowing you to pry an opening and use the wedge to hold it open while you reset the tool to pry further.

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Eric showed how to use a Halligan to break padlocks, both using the tines of the forked end and using the spike through the hasp. Sometimes more specialized tools are better: in this case, bolt cutters will make shorter work of most chain than the Halligan will of the padlock. Eric even showed a technique for using bolt cutters one-handed, by bracing one handle against your body and pulling the other handle or using your body to press it against the doorframe.

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Eric gave everyone a chance to snip some chain with the bolt cutters and break some padlocks using the Halligan.

When we last left port and cover, we had covered the use of breaching ladders and other techniques for getting up to higher windows. We still need to get through the glass. The brake and rake is the purpose-built tool for this. It’s basically a long rod with a weight at the end and a hook to pull blinds or curtains clear. Being such a simple implement, there are a bunch of ways to improvise something, including using breaching ladders, rebar, big sticks, or even your rifle.

To use the break and rake, you stand with your back to the building and swing with your hips and torso. Unlike auto windows this is not safety glass, so breaking a window will leave lots of big, sharp, guillotine-like shards. Getting these out before someone sticks their torso through is critical. To do this we use a Z-shaped motion, bringing the break and rake vigorously to the upper near corner, driving it across the top of the window, bringing it down to the lower near corner, and driving it across to the far lower corner.

Eric covered how to use the rifle to break glass as well. While you can swing it like a break and rake (especially if it has a fixed front sight tower) a more effective method is to muzzle strike the glass in a pool cue like motion.

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Everyone had a chance to use the break and rake to bust a window. I found the breaking part fairly easy, clearing all the glass shards with the Z motion was more difficult. After everyone had gone with the break and rake, Eric had two panes left for folks to try using the rifle. I volunteered for this and used one of Eric’s AKs to break the window. Muzzle striking through the glass was pretty straightforward. Knocking out the rest of the glass definitely left me longing for a longer implement than a 16” AK.

Despite taking measures to contain all the broken glass, we spent a fair bit of time getting it cleaned up. Once that was done, we moved back to shooting. After a brief warmup with our handguns, we brought the carbines out. We started with some simple pairs to the body, moving on to failure to stop drills, and transitions to pistol. As with the handguns yesterday we did a lot of work on turning and addressing targets to our sides and rear.

With the basics covered, we moved on to some simple two-man room entries. Again, Eric started simple and ramped up the complexity. Initially, each team member just shot “their” target. Then we moved on to shooting both targets, then threw in some proactive pistol transitions.

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Eric set up a couple of scenarios in the shoot house. These emphasized decision making and target discrimination. They were set up for solo operators, and we shot the first scenario with our pistols. Eric had three targets set up in the first room, all hostile. Two were located where you could engage them from outside the door while pieing the room. The third was back in a hard corner where you had to make entry to get him. Out a door at the back of the room, Eric had set up a photo target of a uniformed police officer. I managed to ID her and not shoot. I did some verbal communication in an attempt to persuade her not to shoot me. At that point, Eric called the scenario.

For the second scenario, we ran with our carbines. Eric briefed us that this was an active shooter situation with ongoing gunfire, so we were required to make a dynamic entry.

I threw the door open and accelerated through the fatal funnel, then immediately decelerated when I was confronted with a target at close range in the hard corner that I was headed for. I spent what seemed like forever, but was actually less than half a second, trying to identify what he had in his hand. Failing to ID it, I moved on to the next target. This one was much more obvious: a terrorist with an AK-47. He got shot.

The third target in the room was a photo target of someone with a handgun facing away. Because he wasn’t shooting at me, I took a moment to go back to the first target and was finally able to ID the thing in his hand as a cellphone. I switched my attention back to the target facing away and moved up to see what he was shooting at. It turned out to be another AK armed terrorist, who I shot. I then told the target facing away from me to drop the weapon, and Eric called an end to the scenario.

I have to say that Eric did a great job using the photo of an armed individual facing away in a context where it absolutely made sense. I’ll give myself some kudos for not shooting the guy with the phone or the guy facing away from me. However, I have to take some of those kudos away because I totally missed the fact that the guy facing away from me had a badge on his belt. I tunnel-visioned and missed it.

Every other student shot the guy with the phone, leading to some discussion from Eric about “outrunning your headlights” during the debrief.

Next up was the instructional block that really started it all for me, ballistic breaching with a shotgun. Eric talked a bit about shotgun ammo, showing off some breaching rounds (and some of the other specialty rounds he had in his kit). For our purposes though, Eric said that buckshot was just as effective as the specialty breaching rounds at a fraction of the price.

When breaching with a shotgun, the primary technique is to attack the hinges. You want to do this at about a 45-degree angle to the door, so the doorjamb will help contain the buckshot and hinge hardware rather than posing a danger to anyone in the room. For the top and bottom hinges on a door you also want to angle upward or downward at 45 degrees as well, for similar reasons (for middle hinges on 3-hinge doors you’re going to be closer to horizontal).

When doing ballistic breaching, you definitely want to have the assaulters stack up on the knob side of the door, away from the line of fire. This does leave the breacher standing right in the doorway, which means he needs to work fast (Eric did talk about potentially having a guy with a ballistic shield standing on the hinge side and having the breacher work around him, using the shield as cover). After shooting the hinges, the breacher kicks the door in, if necessary, and rolls off to the side, reloading his shotgun (or transitioning to his carbine if the breaching shotgun is a secondary weapon). He steps back into the stack at the back of the line.

We put up a fresh door with some hinges, and everyone had a chance to shoot at least one hinge. This really gave me an appreciation for what a shotgun breach is actually doing. We’re not destroying the door where the hinge attaches (the hinge is 3” long, and the shotgun round is only about 3/4”, since it hasn’t had any time to expand). We’re not destroying the hinge itself either. Indeed, we’re relying on the hinge as a whole to stand up to the shotgun blast (one of the reasons this doesn’t work with a more penetrating weapon like a rifle). Instead, we’re delivering a tremendous blow to the solid metal hinge, knocking it away from the door and stripping out the screws. This leaves the door dangling by a few stripped screws at most.

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After everyone shot their hinges, I had a chance to kick the door down. Very satisfying.

Eric set up one final exercise for a full five-man team. One with a blue-gun AR to simulate port and cover at the window, one with a sledgehammer to breach the door, and three with pistols to serve as assaulters. We moved up, breached the door, and flowed into the first room, shooting two bad guys. We stacked up on the door into the second room, made entry, shot an attacking dog and another bad guy, and a plainclothes cop with a badge on his belt.

Of course, Eric had set up this way deliberately, including confronting the guy going towards the left corner of that second room with both a dog target and the cop. One last lesson in proper target identification and not outrunning your headlights.

We did a debrief, handed out certificates, and packed up our gear. I was offered the opportunity to hit the shower (my last chance at one for the next seven days). We downed some more adult beverages and ate some take-out Mexican food while watching some video of the scenarios (including some drone footage). Eric and I headed back out for a well earned night’s sleep.

Conclusions

I’ve spent a long time hoping Eric would teach a course like this and he did not disappoint. He did a great job with this class. I like the emphasis he put on solo skills and two-man teams quite a bit. While we were able to play around a little bit with larger teams, most of the time was spent on the contexts where most armed citizens are likely to apply these skills: either by ourselves or with one other trained individual.

Similarly, Eric put a lot of emphasis on doing CQB with the pistol. While home defense applications are one of the situations where armed citizens are most likely to deploy a carbine, we’re still most likely to find ourselves with pistol in hand if we need to do CQB. Not to mention that in very tight quarters, the pistol can be the most appropriate tool even if we have a carbine available.

Of course, there’s a lot deeper you can go on this. I would love to see Eric do an advanced CQB class or teach this class in a four-day format. He’s definitely got a wealth of knowledge on this subject, and despite all he managed to cram in we only scratched the surface in this class.

Based on some of the discussion in this class (and some conversations with Eric as we were driving to and from the range) is that every patrol officer in the country needs to take something like the breaching component of this class and have a simple breaching kit (sledgehammer, bolt cutters, maybe a shotgun) in every patrol car. There’s a pronounced tendency for active shooters to try to obstruct law enforcement response by locking doors or chaining them shut. The solutions are so simple (and inexpensive) there’s really no excuse not to.

All my gear ran fine, aside from one failure to eject in my carbine (fixed by lubing up the bolt carrier).

One thing this class has reinforced for me is what, for want of a better term, I will call the cognitive aspects of gunfighting. In the debriefs of the shoot-house scenarios, Eric talked a lot about “outrunning your headlights.” One of the reasons I think I avoided shooting some of the no-shoot targets that other people shot was that I was willing to slow down and not make a decision until I had enough information. As Ninpo Student is fond of saying, “You can’t fight faster than you can process the environment.” This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (and probably a big enough topic it deserves its own thread). I think it’s a hugely important one, and I’m grateful to Eric for putting together some scenarios that highlight this aspect.

This was a great class. I’d highly recommend any course that Eric Pfleger teaches, but in particular, if you get a chance to take a CQB class from him, jump on it.

Carbine Vitals with Daniel Shaw

Chris Upchurch

Last weekend I took the two-day Carbine Vitals class from Daniel Shaw. I'd trained with Daniel before back when he was teaching with Thunderbird Tactical, including taking Carbine Vitals I and II, but it's been several years since I had the opportunity to train with him. It's also been a while since I've taken a straight-up carbine class (most of my long gun training in the past year have been either CQB or long-range focused). So when I saw Daniel was teaching this course, I jumped on it.

Gear

My primary rifle for the class was my 14.5" AR. However, it's not exactly the same 14.5" AR that I've run in previous classes. That rifle originally sported a LaRue Stealth barrel with a fairly heavy profile. I got kind of tired of the weight, so I swapped it out for an Aero Precision upper with a lightweight barrel. To balance things out on the back end, I swapped the heavy Magpul UBR for a CTR. Along with pulling the IR illuminator off of the rifle, this lightened the gun up by about two pounds. I also swapped the trigger out for the JP Rifles modular trigger. I'm still running the Leupold Mark 6 1-6 scope in a tall mount and an AAC Mini4 suppressor.

For support gear, I ran my AWS Light Assaulter belt. This has seen a couple of changes from previous classes as well. I ditched one of the rifle mag pouches and moved some stuff around to make it easier to get into some shooting positions (especially when using it with armor). I'm down to two rifle and two pistol mag pouches, a pistol, medical gear, a multitool, and a dump pouch. I figure if I need more ammo, I can throw on a chest rig or plate carrier.

I brought the Glock 19X Roland Special that I've been testing in some recent classes, though I temporarily swapped the Lightguard out for a Surefire X300 so it would fit the Safariland holster I'm running on the war belt.

Everyone in the class was running an AR of one flavor or another. Mostly .223, though there was one in .300 Blackout. About half the guns had suppressors on them. There was a fairly even mix between red dot optics and low power variable scopes. Most students were running belt setups, though one had a chest rig. Pistols included Glocks, an M&P, and a VP9. Quite a few had red dot sights.

Saturday

We started the class with some introductions. Everyone except for one student had trained with Daniel before. Most folks had some previous carbine classes under their belts as well.

With introductions out of the way, Daniel dove into the safety brief. He has a somewhat different take on some of the four rules of gun safety. He mentioned that this is in part in response to some square range bad habits he sees in classes.

In particular, his take on muzzle discipline is along the lines of, "Be relentlessly aware of your muzzle and keep it pointed in the relatively safest direction in that moment." This emphasizes both that there is not necessarily a completely safe direction and that the direction that comes closest to complete safety may change with the circumstances. Sometimes going muzzle up will be safest, sometimes muzzle down, sometimes horizontally a particular direction. It can change, and we need to be aware of when and how it changes and be adaptable in how we handle our firearm.

In a similar vein, he emphasized the dynamic nature of a target's foreground and background. It's essential not just to establish that the target's foreground and background are clear before we start shooting, but that we remain aware of any changes while we're engaging the target.

Daniel went through a medical briefing, laying out the plan in case someone got shot or otherwise injured during the class.

We began our live fire with a quick opportunity to confirm zero. I was quite grateful for this because the zero on my rifle was a bit dodgy. I'd gone out to the range to zero it earlier in the week, but at the range, I found I didn't have the right hex wrench to adjust the turrets and zero stop. So I had to do my elevation adjustment by measuring how far off I was, then making the adjustment based on that measurement once I got home. I was pretty close, but I ended up having to make a few clicks of adjustment to get my zero dead on.

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Everyone was either on target or only had to make some small adjustments, so we were able to dispose of zeroing pretty quickly. Next up, Daniel talked a bit about the standing position and what makes an optimal shooting stance. He had each of us deliver some rapid fire into the target at about 3 yards, asking us to shoot as quickly as possible while keeping all the rounds in the center circle of an IDPA target. After watching each person shoot, he gave them some pointers and then had them shoot another burst. When my turn came, he suggested bearing down on the stock with my cheek more, to help lock the gun in place. I found that this did help steady the rifle during my follow-up burst.

Daniel talked a bit about rifle ready positions. In addition to the standard low ready, he spent quite a bit of time talking about the benefits of high ready (muzzle up at about a 45-degree angle, with the tip of the muzzle about eye level and the stock down near your hip). This is kind of interesting, since I've been doing more work from a high ready type position lately (though I tend to run the stock more beneath the arm than all the way down at the hip). He also covered having the gun straight up in one hand and straight down (what I'd call high noon ready and rifle Sul).

We did some shooting from the 3-yard line, alternating between mounting the gun from low ready and high ready. Then we moved back to 50 yards and did the same drill on steel torso targets, going through a full magazine. After doing all the quick, up close shooting, it was a bit of a mental gear change to shoot from 50 yards. Intellectually I knew I had to slow down, but I was definitely fighting a tenancy to rush my shots.

For the next drill, Daniel had set up cones at roughly 5-yard increments from about 25 yards up to 5 yards. He'd call out a number, and we'd have to run to that cone and shoot 2-4 rounds. Then he'd call another number, and we had to run to that cone. This is a drill that emphasizes "landing in a shooting position" as you make the transition between rapid movement and stationary shooting. The fact that you're doing this with a bunch of other guys one line with you at the same time means it also requires good muzzle discipline and situational awareness, particularly when he called the number of a cone behind us and we had to turn and run uprange, then turn again to engage.

During a break between drills, Daniel talked about what to do after the fight is (seemingly) over. Rather than the rote sort of scanning that you see taught some places he emphasized the thought process, starting with the most immediate problem: Do I need to shoot this guy some more? Are there any other threats? This can include other bad guys, but also other hazards like traffic. Is this the most survivable location? What's my next problem? (This could be medical care, calling 911, etc.)

Back out on the range, we incorporated side to side movement into the move into a shooting position drill. Rather than a number, Daniel called out "forward", "back", "left", or "right" and we had to move 4-5 steps in that direction, then shoot our 2-4 rounds. This requires an even higher level of situational awareness than the previous drill since there aren't any specific lines. You have to adjust on the fly based on how far and how fast the guys on either side of you move.

For our last subject before lunch, Daniel talked about clearing malfunctions. He went through the different type of stoppages you can get with an AR, from the common (failing to fully lock in a magazine) to the uncommon (bolt override) and how to identify and fix each of them. During the process, he emphasized setting up these malfunctions in a realistic way when you want to practice them. For instance, the way many people set up stovepipes doesn't really match how they occur in the real world, and this can lead to learning the wrong lessons about what works and what doesn't work when it comes to fixing them.

We set up bolt override malfunctions and practiced clearing them. The other malfunction types we'd get a chance to practice this afternoon.

After a break for lunch, Daniel talked a bit about communication between teammates. Specifically, he covered how to communicate when your gun goes down (due to a malfunction or running out of ammo) or when you deliberately want to take your gun offline during a fight (to perform a proactive reload, for instance). When doing this proactively, the first step is to ask your partner to cover you. There's a lot of different verbiage you can use, but he prefers a simple "cover." Your teammate replies "OK," indicating he's able to provide cover while you reload. Once he's confirmed that he can cover you, perform the reload. When you're finished, you call out "ready" to indicate your back in the fight.

If you run dry or your rifle malfunctions, you use the same verbiage, but the intent is a bit different. In this case, rather than asking for him to cover you before you start working on your gun, "cover" is more of a declarative statement. You need to fix this rifle whether he's able to cover you at that moment or not. Hearing "OK" can provide some peace of mind knowing that he can cover you, but you're not waiting until he does to get to work fixing your gun.

We paired up and did a drill where we alternated performing proactive reloads, using "cover," "OK," and "ready" to coordinate. Every so often Daniel would call out "threat," and we had to deliver 2-4 rounds to the target (if we were covering for our partner at that moment, we had to deliver 2-4 rounds to his target as well). As the drill went on and we got a bit smoother Daniel threw in a curveball by using a stick near our ejection port to induce malfunctions, giving us something else to deal with in addition to the proactive reloads.

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After a break to load mags, we did the drill again, just running one pair at a time. This time we dispensed with the proactive reloads and Daniel calling "threat." Our goal was to be constantly putting rounds on target while Daniel used the stick to induce malfunctions. He's pretty good at causing malfs, so even with two shooters, we spent more time fixing the guns than putting fire on target. Frustrating as it was, I really like this drill. It involves very realistic malfunctions (exactly what you'd see if you had your ejection port too near a piece of cover and obstructed it), the need to support your teammate induces some pressure, and the requirement to communicate adds on another layer and takes up some of your mental bandwidth.

Of course, in the real world, our response to a malfunction in our rifle is going to be transitioning to pistol. We did a slow fire group at 5 yards to verify that we know how to shoot a pistol properly (I managed a one-holer).

Since not everyone has had one of his pistol classes, Daniel briefly went through the drawstroke and some pistol ready positions. He really likes the high compressed ready position (gun at chest level, pointed towards the target but angled upward at about 45 degrees). This is not a position that I've done a lot of work with (I generally prefer a compressed ready with the gun horizontal), but I can see the crossover with the high ready with a rifle. Daniel demonstrated transitioning from rifle to pistol. He favors using the support hand to guide the rifle down rather than just dropping it on the sling.

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We finished up the day by setting up double feeds and attempting to shoot the target, then transitioning to pistol. After delivering our pistol shots, we had to coordinate with our teammate to maintain cover on the target while fixing both rifles and reloading our pistols.

Sunday

To help beat the heat, we got going an hour earlier on Sunday morning (at 8 rather than 9). After a brief review of the safety rules and medical plan, we started off doing some shooting from standing at 50 yards. Then we did some work with the cones set up at 5-yard intervals, running forward and back as Daniel called out cone numbers and firing pairs at each distance.

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With our shooting skills warmed up (and the blood pumping a bit), we picked up from where we left off on Saturday. We did the 2-man team malfunction drill again, this time incorporating pistol transitions. This introduced another, more complex layer of decision making into the drill. For a lone rifleman, if your rifle goes down and you're within effective handgun range, the transition to pistol is pretty much automatic. In a team environment, with a buddy to provide cover, you need to decide whether it makes more sense to fix your rifle right away or transition to pistol. In turn, this requires effective communication within the team and an awareness of your teammate's status.

Our next subject was shooting from the support side shoulder. Daniel demonstrated both a half shoulder transfer (moving the stock to the support side shoulder without changing hand positions) and a full transfer (moving the stock and switching the primary hand to the forend and the support hand to the pistol grip). We did some shooting to familiarize folks with the support side shooting and the process for transferring the rifle from one side to the other. Then we moved back to 50 yards and went through a magazine alternating between shoulders as we put rounds on two steel targets.

Daniel went through a couple of shooting positions including squatting, kneeling (in primary side knee down, support side knee down, and double kneeling variations) and urban prone. I had mostly thought about urban prone in terms of shooting under vehicles or perhaps over very low obstacles like curbs, but one thing Daniel pointed out is that it also provides a much greater ability to traverse left and right than more conventional prone positions.

To practice these positions, Daniel would call a position (and sometimes call for a shoulder transfer), and we had to assume that position and fire a burst, then return to standing. Daniel really emphasized that as you get back up from a lowered position, you need to scan every time you change elevation. Every time you assume a higher position, you reveal stuff you couldn't see before because it was blocked by obstacles or micro terrain (and you make yourself a taller target). You need to scan and update your information about your surroundings.

After lunch, Daniel talked a bit about using cover. He particularly emphasized coming out of cover in a shooting position, rather than peeking out and then having to raise your rifle to shoot. When moving from one piece of cover to another, he also emphasized moving explosively (and stopping the same way) so you spend as little time as possible exposed to the adversary.

Daniel set up various pieces of cover, including some at kneeling height, standing height, and a couple for urban prone (shooting both over and under the cover). The drill was to move through these pieces of cover and shooting from three different positions at each.

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One thing we found during this drill was that some people's gear was not adequately secured. My iPhone popped out of my pocket, and I was not the only one to lose a phone (thankfully, mine was undamaged). Other folks lost magazines and other gear. Mag pouches that are adequate for delivering fire from a standing position may not provide sufficient retention for less conventional shooting positions.

In preparation for some subsequent drills, Daniel briefly covered pistol malfunction drills (fairly simple compared to the complexity of fixing AR malfunctions). He also covered one-handed malfunction clearance for both pistol and rifle (which was a bit of an ominous sign). He gave us some time to experiment with one-handed rifle malfunction clearance at our own pace.

The next drill had us stacking up behind our teammate and advancing toward a target. When the lead team member ran dry (or suffered a stick-induced malfunction), they peeled off and assumed the rear position while they fixed their rifle while the other man stepped up and continued to engage the target. Once we got up within a few yards of the target, Daniel had us continue the drill moving backward. The point of this drill was not so much the malfunction clearance, but rather to get us used to safely moving in close proximity to our partner, something we'd need on the next exercise.

That next exercise was really the culmination of the entire class. Daniel placed each two-man team behind a piece of wall representing cover. Our job was to deliver continuous fire on steel targets downrange. Periodically, Daniel would call "switch," and we'd have to swap the side of the cover that we were shooting around with our teammate. Of course, he was there with the stick to induce malfunctions. Partway through the drill, he told one or both shooters that they'd lost the use of their support hand and had to shoot and clear malfunctions one-handed for the rest of the drill. Just to throw in one more level of complexity, he started calling out a particular target out of the four downrange that we had to engage (rather than leaving it to the shooter's choice).

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Not only did this require you to exercise all of the physical skills we covered in the class, like shooting from cover, malfunction clearance (including one-handed), transitioning to pistol, muzzle discipline, moving in close proximity to your teammate, communication, and general situational awareness; it also layered on all of these things onto your thought process. While good, safe gunhandling skills are critical, at its core, this is as much of a thinking exercise as it is a shooting or gunhandling exercise.

An interesting manifestation of this was that one the differences between more experienced shooters and less experienced ones weren't just that the more experienced shooters were more accurate or cleared malfunctions better, but that more experienced shooters were much less likely to get task fixated. For instance, less-experienced shooters tended to transition to pistol and just keep engaging with the handgun, rather than asking their teammate to cover them while they fixed their rifle. Or when they were fixing a malfunction, and their teammate's gun went down, they continued with the malfunction clearance rather than putting that on hold and drawing their pistol. They'd get started on a task and carry it through until they finish it or something prevents them from continuing.

More experienced shooters were more fluid and were able to react to changing situations. When their partner's gun went down, they stopped fixing their own rifle and drew their handgun. When the partner got their gun back up, they put their own handgun away and went to work getting their rifle up. The difference in situational awareness, communication, and task fixation was quite noticeable.

Based on some of the difficulties students had doing one-handed rifle shooting, Daniel had us do one last exercise. We worked our way through the various pieces of cover again, this time shooting our rifles one-handed. Some of these were fairly easy (plunk the forend down on a piece of low cover and use it to support your rifle) but figuring out three different one-handed shooting positions from each piece of cover was a challenge. This is one area where a red dot does better than a low power variable, but the eye box on the Mark 6 was big enough I was able to make the hits I needed to, even if it wasn't ideal.

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Probably the most difficult part of this drill was the cover that simulated shooting under a vehicle. It was low enough that you had to roll the rifle over onto its side, but you couldn't rest the gun on the cover itself. There was a lot of contorting to get a leg or knee under the rifle to support it or stacking a couple of mags to support the gun. This drill and the one-handed shooting in the previous exercise make me really glad I'd switched to the lighter upper on my rifle.

To finish things off, we did a bit of shooting back at the 200-yard line. Once everybody had their fill of that, Daniel did a debrief of the class, and everyone packed up and headed out.

Conclusions

This was really a great class. Daniel did an excellent job teaching, and I got a ton out of it. We had a good group of students. There was quite a bit of variety in skill level and experience, but everyone was safe, and even the folks who hadn't previously taken a carbine course came into the class with a solid foundation. Accommodating a wide range of skill levels like this can be challenging. I've been in classes where more advanced students didn't get a whole lot of the instructor's attention. In contrast, Daniel did a great job of emphasizing the basics with the students who were newer to the carbine while helping more experienced students to refine their skills.

One thing I was particularly impressed with is Daniel's ability to gauge how far to push a particular student. He got everyone operating right up at their individual limit but didn't push anyone to the point where it stopped being a learning experience, or they became unsafe. Even within the same two-man team, he was able to push different shooters differing amounts.

The class dove pretty deep into some skills that I haven't spent a lot of time practicing, including rifle malfunction clearance and one-handed rifle shooting. However, I think the real take-home for me was some of the mental aspects of the fight: thinking and communicating under pressure. A lot of this material actually comes from Daniel's "Problem Solver" class. Because we had such a good group of students, we were able to get through the Carbine Vitals curriculum quickly, so Daniel incorporated the problem solver drills here. However, he's evidently got even more stuff up his sleeve when he teaches the problem solver class in a two-day format. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for next time he teaches that course.

Something I need to work on is getting into shooting positions dynamically. I found that during the drills where we were running and stopping to shoot, I often found myself in a less than optimal stance. There are certainly times where we need to shoot from suboptimal stances like this, but I think with some more practice I could get better at landing directly in a good shooting position.

The new upper ran very well. No malfunctions aside from the deliberately induced ones. Towards the end of class I did have a few instances where the trigger didn't want to reset. The lower was pretty dirty (one of the hazards of running a suppressor). Cleaning it out after class seemed to fix the problem.

I'd definitely recommend Carbine Vitals for anyone who wants to advance their carbine skills.